Grace Orstad, Synder Lab (Oncological Sciences)
Tell me a little about yourself. Where are you from, what degree(s) do you have? What are your interests?
I grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis, MN and then went to Northern Michigan University where I earned a BS in Biochemistry. As an undergraduate student I studied the antioxidant capacity of the common beet for one year under the supervision of Dr. Suzanne Williams, and then I joined research group of the Upper Michigan Brain Tumor Center. I joined the University of Utah's Molecular Biology PhD program directly from undergrad in the fall of 2016. Outside of science, my interests include outdoor recreation, live music, pottery, game nights, and carpentry!
Why did you choose the U for graduate school?
The biggest differentiating factor between the U and the other universities I was considering for my PhD studies is the strong emphasis Utah places on collaboration over competition. The academic environment here is very supportive and collaborative, which was important to me. Combine that with the top tier research studies and the incredibly beautiful natural environment and I was sold.
Tell me about your lab. What do you study?
I work in the lab of Eric Snyder MD, PhD. We have many different studies going on, but the common thread between all of them is investigating transcriptional network that regulates cellular differentiation in lung and pancreatic cancer.
Why did you choose to join your lab?
I chose to work in the Snyder lab because I find the scientific questions we ask very engaging. Additionally, during my rotation I found that Dr. Snyder is a generous, kind, and supportive mentor. I have grown exponentially as a scientist under his guidance.
What do you like most about living in Salt Lake City?
I went to undergrad in one of the most beautiful places on the planet that was surrounded by incredibly beautiful nature and endless opportunities for outdoor recreation. It was important to me that where I attend graduate school also have this kind of environment, and SLC easily fulfilled that! Within the Salt Lake valley there are endless hikes and trails within a 20 minute drive, and it is not difficult to take a day trip or a weekend to visit the National Parks and public lands in southern Utah. Also, SLC has a ton of live music venues and really great restaurants and breweries! It's a really fun place to live.
What do you like the least?
I am very close with my family in Minnesota and wish I was closer to them. I try to go home to Minnesota at least twice a year for visits.
What do you like most about being a graduate student?
I have really enjoyed the transition from just learning about science as an undergraduate to contributing to scientific knowledge as a graduate student. I really enjoy reading and discussing papers and applying new knowledge to my own research questions. Additionally, I have found great friendship in the Biosciences graduate student community.
What types of things do you do outside of class and lab?
I started taking pottery classes in the Spring of 2019 and I have really enjoyed it! I go to the pottery studio at least once a week. I also have recently picked up some basic carpentry skills and have built a headboard and a table. Outside of these hobbies I also enjoy game nights with my friends, camping, hiking, and going to live music shows!
What does a typical weekday look like for you?
I typically get into lab between 8 and 9 am and get to work! Our lab uses genetically engineered mouse models, so I'll usually start by going down to the animal facility and checking on my colony, and then proceed with whatever experiments, reading, or writing I have planned for the day. I have completed all coursework and teaching requirements for my department, so the only "classes" I have are a journal club discussion every other week and a weekly departmental seminar. When I get home (the time varies a lot depending on the day) I will take my roommate's dog for a walk and then cook or order dinner and relax.
What does a typical weekend look like for you?
If I have any lab work to get done I always try to go in as soon as I wake up so I have the rest of the day free. A typical weekend outside of lab work usually includes time in the pottery studio, grocery shopping, game night, lots of playing with the dog, watching something on Netflix, and some sort of outdoor activity if the weather allows!
What advice would you give to someone applying and interviewing for graduate school?
My advice for prospective students is to be sure you have experience in an academic hypothesis-driven research environment before you apply! Getting a PhD is not at all like a bachelors degree or a coursework-only masters degree. Conducting scientific research is a completely different skillset than learning about it in a textbook and classroom. Once you have decided to apply and are being interviewed it is important to know that you should be evaluating if the school is a good fit for you just as much as they are assessing you! A PhD is a huge commitment, so you want to be thoughtful and thorough in your choice of where to study!